Which came first philosophy or poetry?

Foreign language section at Downtown Books & News

Someone asked how many of today’s poets are also philosophers?[1] The question presents some assumptions. One assumption is that poets merely express themselves in literary work through distinctive style and rhythmic fashion. This notion tends to present the  emotional aspect of poetry, but ignores the intellect of poetry. There is a dichotomy to poetry that mingles and merges into philosophy. The study of knowledge, reality and existence is at the core of philosophy, and the expression of these ideas is at the center of poetry.

Readers of poetry know that the subject matter of most serious literary poetry is an investigation of knowledge, reality and existence. One might argue, that light verse also presents a philosophical truss and girder to the support of the work. Truly, poetry puts a face on ideas, clothes abstractions in tangible, beautiful garments and builds images from the exploration of the meaning of life.[2]

Western philosophy began in 6th century BCE. It interesting to me that before philosophy there was poetry. Hesiod composed Theogony more than 100 years before Thales of Miletus and the Pre-Socratics. About that time period Homer released the Iliad. It is not by accident that poetry informs philosophy nor that poets birth philosophical conversations.

To address the question that sparked this post, I’m still considering the question of who I might regard as a great modern poet philosopher. My mind runs in two veins: one is the craft of the poet (i.e. the strength of the literary work) and two is the ideas of the poet (i.e. the strength of the logic and rhetoric of the argument). A couple of modern poets come to mind, but they have long since passed from this world. Two names of living poets simmer in the back of my mind. What do you think? How many of today’s poets are also philosophers? Are you a poet? Do you consider yourself a philosopher? What examples of philosophy do you find in poetry?

NOTES: [1] Gael, “Wondering how many poets are also philosophers and intuitives as well as creative.?” LinkedIn, April 21, 2013 accessed May 6, 2013 http://www.linkedin.com/group.
[2] There is a whole discussion that could be had regarding avant-garde poetry and the challenges with poetic forms that are not accessible to the average reader, but this post deals only with the question of philosophy as it relates to poetry.

3 thoughts on “Which came first philosophy or poetry?

  1. I came across this article searching precisely for poetry and philosophy blogs. For me, some of the finest examples of poetry and philosophy are Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, Goethe’s “Faust”, and Lord Byron’s “Manfred”. The one living poet-philosopher whom I consider the greatest artist of our time is Howard Barker. I write poetry and aphorisms and every one of my poems is inseparable from the philosophical.

  2. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I wish I could say I have read much of Howard Barker, but I can not. What Howard Barker book should one read first?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s